California’s Lost Coast is often described as wild and unruly – a scene of jagged mountains, fluffy firs and hillsides that give way to the agitated tides of the Pacific. The coastline that spans Humboldt and Mendocino counties is without any major highways thanks to the engineering challenges of building among the craggy landscape.
In the foothills of the Lost Coast’s King Range lies Honeydew Farms – a cannabis farm that is anything but lost and unruly. Shots of the ranch reveal neat rows of marijuana plants – weighed down with fat colas ripe for harvest. Unlike many growers who are struggling to figure out California’s new marijuana regulations, Honeydew has its licensing in order. After cultivating cannabis for some 25 years under the state’s caregiver model, Honeydew owners Alex and Miranda Moore were the first to submit an application for a Humboldt County cultivation license. Now, they’re turning their operation into a for-profit medical cannabis company.
Much has been made about the struggles of California cannabis growers to ensure compliance in the brave new world of regulated medical and recreational marijuana. The Moores’ journey to becoming one of the first county-licensed farms was an arduous but serendipitous one.
For the past decade, Honeydew has been in the process of subdividing and re-zoning their property to accommodate a partnership on one of the ranch’s parcels of land. Through that ordeal, Honeydew had to make sure its roads and buildings were up to code, securing permits for its greenhouse and barn structures. “We had to be reviewed by all these same agencies that are now reviewing cannabis,” said Alex Moore.
So when California proposed new medical cannabis regulations, the Moores found themselves perfectly poised to apply for a license. “It was a blessing in disguise that we went through that process,” he said. Many other cannabis grows in the area lacked permitted buildings.
Still, it wasn’t easy. The Moores got involved with Humboldt County’s process in crafting its local cannabis ordinance, hiring a land-use law firm and attending county meetings. Humboldt’s economy had been suffering due to the decline in the logging and fishing industries. “We helped to convince county officials that [they’re] sitting on a massive industry that’s already here,” said Moore.
Humboldt’s Planning Commission eventually approved Honeydew’s application in a 4 to 1 vote. With its paperwork in order, Honeydew could turn its attention to its plants.
“Sustainably farming cannabis is a priority for us,” said Moore. “We just have a deep connection to our ranch, to the land, to the environment. This property is hopefully going to be in our family for generations.”
Honeydew eschews harmful chemicals so it can re-use its soils year after year. Their living soils are regularly tested for deficiencies and supplemented with organic amendments that are locally mixed. “We have [soils] here on the ranch we’ve been using for 20 years,” said Moore. “[It’s] also quite a benefit to us financially because we don’t have to replace our soil every year.”
While the farm has its paperwork in order, it’s still dealing with the anxieties that come with being one of the first license holders in the historic cannabis-growing region.
“We got a lot of hate from locals that we know in the cannabis industry,” said Moore. “That was kind of shocking to us.”
Even more pressing is the concern over volatility in the marijuana market. Farmers pay high costs to become compliant with little knowledge of what prices their crops will command. “That creates anxiety,” he said. “Then, you’re slapping on all these different taxes and you still have a black market that a lot of people are operating in.”
There’s also the oversaturation of the cannabis industry. Estimates put California’s cannabis production at anywhere between six and 12 times its demand. Then add newcomers to the mix: “All these new people with big Wall Street backing are popping up and walking into million-dollar facilities in the Central Valley,” said Moore.
Still, joining the regulated market affords its benefits. “I think there’s definitely going to be a lot more conscious consumers,” said Moore. Those customers will be looking out for lab tests and seeking organic producers. “More people are going to be trying cannabis… and are going to care about what they put into their bodies,” he said.
Going legit also gives growers who have operated under the radar a chance to create a brand. “Trying to figure out marketing and all these different things that aren’t related to farming has created a bit of anxiety for us,” he said. “But we feel blessed and grateful to opportunity to build a brand.”
As for what the future will hold for Honeydew, Moore says they hope to expand to the recreational market. “As a business person with bills to pay, the recreational market is a lot bigger than the medical market.”
That ambition dovetails with the farmer’s view of the plant too: “Personally, I’ve always thought that you shouldn’t have to wait to use cannabis until you’re really sick.”
Originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.